A few new mid-market, “loft” style hotel brands have emerged in recent months, which got me thinking about the Northwest Tower’s (“coyote building”) reuse possibility as a boutique hotel with convenient access to O’Hare and downtown, fantastic unobstructed views, and a hip neighborhood ambience. It’s not like I know any adaptive-reuse hotel developers, but it was interesting enough to investigate.

If the assessor’s estimate of 37,200 sq ft of building on 4500 sq ft of land is to be believed, the structure could optimistically house 60-70 rooms on floors 3-12 with reception and a bar on one and two. (There’s just not space for a full-service hotel’s requisite restaurant, deluxe lobby, and pool.) Even though hotel rooms average 300-400 sq ft apiece [and their buildings ~500 sq ft per key] the building’s narrow angle creates problems: the sharp corner, obviously, but less obviously because it has an awkward core lined up against the back wall, which cuts back even more on perimeter space.

Compare that to the Reliance Building, home of the just-barely full-service Burnham Hotel: 62,700 sq ft of building on 4700 sq ft of land, and a much friendlier rectangular layout. The economics don’t really work under 100 rooms; Kimpton requires at least that, with the 122-room Burnham among their smallest properties. The Standard Hollywood has 140 keys, and Starwood’s aloft is targeting 125-175 keys. (Starwood says 90-180, and its aloft prototype has 136 keys in 66,000 square feet, but the full-service W Waikiki counts a mere 51 rooms.)

Adding the neighboring Hollander fireproof warehouse [street view] (24,000 sq ft of building on 5121 sq ft of land, plus niceties like alley access and a loading dock for those laundry trucks) makes the layout infinitely easier but adds challenges: on one hand, its warehouse-height floors don’t line up with the Tower’s, and it’s never given indication that it’s for sale (even as property values have zoomed); on the other, it’s likely sturdy enough to sprout a substantial (if expensive) addition above, provided zoning could be secured. Such an addition could reorganize the tower’s inconvenient core while also adding rooms, although it still leaves the question of what to do with the mismatched third through fifth floors. The two lots just past it — a single story building and a parking lot — also seem ripe for redevelopment. Indeed, the tower and a total of six lots are all now listed for sale by their owner, MCM.

Of course, the whole deal would some kind of parking solution. Ideally, enough capital and organization could materialize to build a shared off-site structure safely away on Elston or Western, but that could complicate what’s already looking like a head-splitter of a deal. Or else the site could participate in some kind of neighborhood shared-parking authority.

Unfortunately, it appears that two major hotel developers with extensive rehab experience in Chicago (Sage Hospitality and Kimpton) both target larger, sometimes much larger projects — most of Sage’s development projects are around 300 rooms. Continental Property and ECD both have aloft hotels in the works locally (O’Hare, South Loop and Lincolnshire, respectively) but don’t do rehabs. Preservationist bête-noire John Buck also has an aloft license, but no local projects. Rehab or hotel expertise could be imported from another city, like Streuver Bros., Eccles & Rouse, but a local partner still seems necessary.

[update 12 December 2007]


4 thoughts on “Hotelier

  1. Some data on the Santa Fe Lofts IV building, the first official adaptive reuse project for aloft:

    159,791 sq ft building (from Dallas appraiser); will add ninth floor
    35,632 sq ft land area
    195 rooms + small meeting spaces

  2. The buildings’ ownership will again shift hands — Amcore Bank has filed to foreclose upon both the Tower and Hollander buildings, according to local rumors. If this happens, it would get the buildings out from under the existing owners and keeps open the option of having the two properties under the same ownership. As mentioned in the post, I think that the Hollander building adds a lot of flexibility to the Northwest Tower, making planning for it much more feasible. MCM’s website gives Hollander’s specs as 26,370 sq. ft. on 5 floors, plus basement, for 31,644 sq. ft. total. 16′ ceilings on ground floor, 11′ ceilings above, so 6 floors of NW Tower = 5 floors of Hollander.

    Additional data points: the W Minneapolis at the Foshay has floorplates as small as 3,800 square feet, while its sister the Chambers Minneapolis (now under the Le Meridien flag, whose artistic focus might be a good fit for this site) has 60 keys in 85,000 square feet (including 15 suites, a restaurant, meeting rooms, and art gallery). The Chambers was originally planned as a $14M, 24-suite property in 30,000 sq. ft. That size of property, essentially a large B&B, would be an interesting possibility but difficult to envision from the depths of a recession.

  3. Another suggestion comes from HotelChatter, which recommends an Ace Hotel for this spot. Ace has much the same look & feel that Longman & Eagle has achieved up in Logan Square. Part of me thinks that Bucktown’s no longer quite as hip as Ace, and that something further up Milwaukee might be a better fit.

    There’s also mention of a 90-key proposal; that’s possible, but tight — by keeping per-room space below 400 sq. ft. Ace’s ability to curate a superb selection of ancillary businesses would also be crimped by the general lack of ground-floor space — although again, the storage building next door opens up many more opportunities. Other Aces vary tremendously in size: NYC has 344 keys in 165,000 sq. ft.; the first in Seattle has a mere 28 rooms, and most comparably, the former Clyde in Portland had 28,536 square feet.

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